Alsea Falls 400k Preride Notes
This is a lovely ride, made all the more so for featuring a bunch roads that the Oregon Randonneurs haven't spent much time on. It definitely breaks down into distinct sections, with the first half featuring a fair amount of climbing and a liberal amount of shade, while the second half is flatter but more exposed. I'd say that of the 400k courses that I've ridden or could imagine, this one is about average -- harder than the Covered Bridges 400, but easier than the Nehalem 400. It's probably slightly easier than Kramer's Klickitat Explorer 400 from a couple years ago.
Of course, the heat and the wind make a big difference, and I had plenty of both for my pre-ride. The forecast for next week looks a lot more moderate, so riders should be very comfortable. In any case, the three hardest climbs all feature copious shade (or happen well before the day heats up).
The scenery is entirely fantastic. Lots of trees and distant hills, farms and pastures. There are parts of the coast range early in the ride that look more like the alpine Cascades, even though you're barely scraping 2000'.
Alsea Falls 400 preride notes:
The course keeps you off of 99W for a while, but joins it in downtown. After you get through downtown McMinnville, the turnoff to stay on Baker Street is kind of subtle. Baker Street keeps going straight while 99W veers off to the right. Make sure to take the road between the Napa and the Union 76 station.
The climb up to Sheridan Peak is pretty nice up to the reservoir on Meadow Lake Road, but is absolutely gorgeous once you make the turnoff from the Nestucca River Road. This is the one tricky navigation point of the ride; just past the BLM sign welcoming you to the Nestucca River Recreation Area, the road goes down to the left, crosses a drainage, turns up to the right, and at the top of that, there's a broad, paved section, with an un-named road that goes off to your left. That's Bald Mountain Road. You'll know you're in the right place if it doesn't turn into gravel. You'll also pass an OHV area soon after you make the turn.
We'll have a staffed controle at the viewpoint, giving you a chance to top off your bottles and catch your breath after the climb. And while the climb is satisfying enough, the descent from the Sheridan Peak viewpoint is even better; it's easily on par with the downhill run on NFD 42 from the Timothy 200 last year, and it goes almost all the way to Willamina. And the pavement is in remarkably good shape.
Services are available at Willamina and Sheridan.
Ballston should be familiar to most of you. The section from Ballston to Dallas has a couple 100' hills; it's kind of similar to the Cascade Highway south of Silverton, actually. There are services in Dallas, including a bike store if you need it.
There's some traffic between Dallas and the turnoff to Falls City. The posted speed limit is 55, but traffic isn't so dense that there isn't plenty of room for everyone. After you get past Falls City, it's really light.
The road up to Falls City is good, featuring a couple small rollers. There's a store and a park there. There's also a pretty awesome looking mountain bike park just west of town; I'll have to take my Santa Cruz there sometime. Across the bridge, riders make an immediate left on Main St, and follow it as it becomes Bridgeport. Bridgeport has about a 1 mile section with intermittent gravel. It's hard packed, not at all loose, and there are almost no potholes, so it's easy to get across on a bike. It's basically 2 gravel sections, each about a quarter mile long. I did it on a 'bent with 23mm tires with no problems.
Once you rejoin OR 223, the traffic continues to fall off. There're some pretty good rollers all the way to US 20, though. No hills really stand out in particular, but you'll definitely feel their cumulative effect. Services are available at the King's Valley store.
US 20 has more traffic, but an ample shoulder. It's a small climb at the start, and then a longer downhill that pretty much takes you to OR 34. I filled my bottles from a hose bib at the antique store on the corner -- there are no services from here to Alsea.
OR 34 has less traffic than US 20, and almost as much shoulder. It's a pretty pleasant road to ride on, and bicycles are expected. It's a couple miles before you start the climb up to Alsea Summit, but once you do, it's only about 3 miles. You'll definitely know when it's begun. It's all downhill and then flat into Alsea, which was a lot more charming in person than it's Google streetview would have you believe. The Alsea Mercantile is staffed by a couple cheery women, and is open until 7.
Heading south out of town, follow the signs for Alsea Falls. The road is pretty flat for a while, and then starts going up at a pretty challenging grade. And then it plunges downhill. Don't worry: that's the worst part of this next section. It's a gorgeous, quiet road with no traffic and an incredibly reasonable grade all the way up to the summit. And there isn't just shade from adjacent tall trees; there is a full-fledged canopy of overhanging branches -- you should be plenty comfortable, even if the sun is right overhead. There are steep-ish sections, but you're done with them almost as soon as you notice them. If it's hot, definitely take a break at Alsea Falls, which is an incredibly inviting slick rock cascade. The Vincent Sikorski hydro-thermal cooling method might be advisable. It's about 5 miles from the falls to the top.
The descent on the other side is steeper than the climb. It's also too technical to just let your bike go, but it's great fun, and you don't have to ride your brakes the whole way. At the bottom it's a flat stretch through Alpine to your next services at Monroe.
From Monroe across the Willamette, through Harrisburg to Gap Road is typical Willamette Valley abstract plain scenery. The roads are mostly very quiet, except for a short stretch on 99E when you cross the river into Harrisburg. There are services open late in Harrisburg. Once you turn north on Gap Road, you get some interesting views again. You'll also have I think three climbs associated with Brownsville Gap. They're not long, but you'll feel them. Once you crest the last and biggest of the three, it's a fast stretch into Brownsville.
Brownsville is a totally sweet little town that I would like to spend a day or an afternoon in sometime. Unfortunately, most of the businesses on the nifty looking main street will be closed for many of you. But there is a Chevron Station on your left as you roll into town that is open until 11:30. For many of you, this will be your last chance to fuel up until Salem.
North of Brownsville, you get a few more rollers and another minor gap that you have to winch up through. After that, there's only enough terrain to keep it interesting to look at -- it's pretty much flat until just before Jefferson. The only thing to note: as you turn left from US 20 onto Harber Road, there's a little bit of loose gravel on the pavement. So don't hit that turn too hard, or it might hit back.
It's an easy climb over Scravel Hill to Jefferson. There are services in Jefferson if you get there early enough. Then you have to pull yourself up through Parrish Gap, which is a bit painful at this stage of the ride. At least it's short. It's fun rollers into Turner, and then pushing over the easy bump of Turner Gap gets you into Salem, the last control.
Crossing the new bike/pedestrian bridge off of Union Street gets you on the right side of the Willamette again, and an efficient-but-not-too scenic stretch on Wallace Road gets you out of town. After you turn left on Hopewell Road, there are a couple short steep bumps that reward you with a nice quiet path to Webfoot, which is a sweet, flat, empty little road. When you hit Stringtown, you're home free. That, Cruickshank, and a couple miles on the shoulder of OR 18 lead you back to the Best Western.